I'm James Hague, a recovering programmer who has been designing video games since the 1980s. This is Why You Spent All that Time Learning to Program and The Pure Tech Side is the Dark Side are good places to start.
Where are the comments?
Dehumidifiers, Gravy, and Coding
For a few months I did freelance humor writing. Greeting cards, cartoon captions, that sort of thing. My sole income was from the following slogan, which ended up on a button:
Once I've gathered enough information for the almighty Zontaar, I'm outta here!
Sitting down and cranking out dozens of funny lines was hard. Harder than I expected. I gave it up because it was too draining (and because I wasn't making any money, but I digress).
Periodically I decide I want to boost my creativity. I carry around a notebook and write down conversations, lists, brainstormed ideas, randomness. I recently found one of these notebooks, so I can give some actual samples of its contents. Below half a page of "Luxury Housing Developments in Central Illinois Farmland" (e.g., Arctic Highlands), there's a long list titled "Ridiculous Things." Here are a few:
Okay, okay, I'll stop. But you get the idea.
As with the humor writing, I remember this taking lots of effort, and it took real focus to keep going. Did this improve my creativity? I'd like to think so. It certainly got me thinking in new directions and about different topics. It also made me realize something fundamental: technical creativity, such as optimizing code or thinking up clever engineering solutions, is completely different from the "normal" creativity that goes into writing stories or taking photos.
Years ago, I followed the development of an indie game. This was back when writing 3D games for non-accelerated VGA cards was cutting edge. The author was astounding in his coding brilliance. He kept pulling out trick after trick, and he wasn't shy about posting key routines for others to use. Eventually the game was released...and promptly forgotten. It may have been a technical masterpiece, but it was terrible as game, completely unplayable.
I still like a good solution to a programming problem. I still like figuring out how to rewrite a function with half the code. But technical creativity is only one form of creativity.